A call for candor from the city council candidates
Original post made
by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 20, 2007
Everything seems in place for this fall's city council election in Palo Alto. We have 12 candidates running for four seats, we have campaign managers and candidate web sites.
But will we have candidates who are candid? Will we have an intelligent discussion on how to improve our city? Will the candidates specifically address the issues, or will they hide behind "on the one hand, on the other hand" types of answers we typically get from people who want to be elected?
I have some overall questions I would love to ask the candidates, such as can they understand a city budget and work through the numbers? Are they willing to make decisions based on finances, rather than on who comes to council meetings pleading for pet projects? And finally, will the candidates be simply a rubber stamp for city hall staff or can they exercise some leadership?
Those are for starters; here are some more:
Infrastructure a code word for sundry things like street and road repairs, park improvements, street lighting. Much work has been neglected, e.g., we are some $28 million behind in street repairs alone. What would you do, Mr./Ms. Candidate, to speed things up? Should we allocate more city money for improving our infrastructure?
What are your three priorities for this city?
Councils in the past have put together a list of priorities, but then the list changes the following year. What overall priority practices would you urge?
City employee costs and benefits are skyrocketing, putting increased pressure on the city's annual budget. Would you cut the budget? Would you cut the number of employees at city hall?
Does this city spend too much and/or are we getting our money's worth?
What should the city do to keep its auto dealers in town and attract new ones?
Please comment on the city's new web site and what should be done about it, if anything.
We've had two city council subcommittees work for two-plus years on increasing retail in Palo Alto and encouraging new businesses to locate here, but the committees have not had much success. What would you do to attract more retailers?
Do we need more housing in our city or do we have enough?
How do you feel about the traffic in town?
Four years ago, and then two years ago, there was talk of reducing the council from nine to seven members, and also electing a mayor who would serve a four-year term. Candidate reaction, please.
The City Council recently approved hiring an environmental-coordinator for $151,000 to focus the city more specifically on global warming locally. Do you agree or disagree with the need for such a coordinator?
That's my list. I am sure residents have a lot more, which we can list below. Next goal: get the candidates to answer our questions.
Posted by Anonymous Coward
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 20, 2007 at 2:25 pm
What is your opinion about the recently proposed infrastructure builds, as summarized in recent commission reports - i.e. Public Safety Building, Libraries/Recreation Center (Mitchell Park rebuild and Main/branch improvements)? Should these infrastructure builds be financed as part of a single bond offering, or go out on separate ballots?
Do you think that Palo Altans are knowledgeable about the real benefits - in metrics that they can understand - of our Public Safety, Library and Recreation Center infrastructure?
If you think Palo Altans don't know enough about these institutions, what will you do to help change that situation?
How would you work with Council members(s) A, B, C, and/or candidates D, E, F, or some combination thereof, to accomplish your stated strategic goals for Palo Alto?
How do you envision Palo Alto's future? Will we grow? By how much? What role will you play in promoting growth, while balancing concerns for neighborhood integrity?
How will you help Palo Alto prepare for a time, some 15-20 years hence, when senior citizens comprose roughly 40% of our population?
How prepared are you to work aggressively toward regional solutions to some of our most vexing problems - i.e. housing, transportation, homelessness? Please relate some of your thinking about these problems.
What is your plan for increasing the effectiveness of city/PAUSD relationship, in ways that state - and complete - real milestones with attached metrics?
What plans will you work to complete that will improve the solicitation of retail services to Palo Alto? What ideas do you have for bringing, merchants, developers, landlords, and citizens together, to create win-win scenarios for retail growth in Palo Alto?
What kind of retail growth would you like to see in Palo Alto?
What is your positino on the Stanford expansion? Please explain in light of the costs AND benefits associated with Stanford's presence.
What is your thinking about the nature of our relationship to Stanford? How would you propose that Palo Alto become a better partner with Stanford? What - if anything - do you think is "broken" regarding Palo Alto/Stanford relations.
What ideas do you have for promoting inter-municipal efficiency, and how would you implement those idea?
What is your opinion about the effectiveness of city staff in the delivery of services?
What ideas do you have for maintaining strong city employee morale, while keeping operational costs down?
What is your opinion about examining the idea of selling Palo Alto Utilities. If you are against the idea of looking into this possibility, please explain your rationale in light of the benefits that such a sale might bring, as well as the costs that a sale might bring.
What is your opinion about intra-urban mass transit? How can we be more effective in providing cheap, accessible, intra-urban mass transportation that gets people where they want to go, when they want to go there.
How important are walkable neighborhoods to you? How do you transport yourself to most intra-city destinations?
Is Palo Alto's quality of life increasing, or decreasing - why? Please be specific.
What is your opinion on affordable housing? What problems do you perceive - or not - if Palo Alto chooses not to build sufficient affordable housing in the future?
What ideas do you have for environmental sustainability that do not limit growth?
Would you slow down, keep current, or increase the projected pace of population change in Palo Alto?
What is your opinion about the existance of political commissions? Are permanent, or ad hoc commissions more advantageous?
How much time are you prepared to spend working on City Council issues?
Define Palo Alto, in your own words, in 30 seconds.
Define Palo Alto's primary challenges, in your own words, in 60 seconds.
Describe what the entire City Council needs to do to accomplish the goals you are setting out in your campaign, and who you will work with to accomplish those goals. PLease keep this answer to less than two minutes.
Is Palo Alto an environmentally friendly city?
How can we reduce the cost of government without laying off workers, or raising taxes. This is a difficult question; it will challenge your "inside-and-outside-of-the-box-thinking".
Is Palo Alto able to solve the projected problems that you envision on its own?
What retail businesses would you like to see in Palo Alto?
Should Palo Alto maintain some margin of control over the kinds and placement of retail in certain parts of our city? For instance, should we permit 10 beauty salons within a block of each other, or 15 restaurants within two blocks of each other? What can Palo Alto policy makers do to improve the retail mix in our city, in a way that makes our city, and our valued retail merchants and restauranteurs more sustainable?
What is your opinion of the hotel tax? Business license tax? Please explain your position.
What is your position regarding private/public partnerships to pay for city services? What advantages and pitfalls do you perceive?
What is your opinion about the amount of diligence required of commercial property developers prior to development?
What will you do to encourage more of a dialogue between developers and the community before development projects get off the ground?
Describe your most competent opponent in this race. Why is s/he competent, and suited to hold office?
How is it possible to enforce a vision that keeps pace with the accelerating rate of change in our region, especially on a policy-making bodt that consists of nine members, and is driven by consensus?
What is your opinion about paying City Council members a salary between 30-50% of Palo Alto's median salary?
Is the strong city manager model of government a viable municipal management model in current times. Why or why not?
How will Palo Alto sustain its current level of service, with layoffs?
How will Palo Alto sustain it's current level of service, without layoffs?
How will you work with the consistent minority of voters in Palo Alto that tend to vote in just large enough numbers to challenge the spending wishes of the clear majority, in ways that prevent a zero sum result?
What is your stance on FTTx (fiber communications)? Should we be pursing a local, regional, or no solution at all?
What is your plan to help Palo Altans understand guaranteed, coming, water shortages?
What is your opinion about flood control.
Is ABAG good or bad for our region? Why?
Should public commissions be suggesting action on matters of national policy? Why or why not?
Posted by Smokey
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 13, 2007 at 7:08 pm
Comments from Smokey Wallace, candidate for City Council.
Smokey: I find it telling that you have gotten 41 replies to your "A call for candor from the city council candidates" and none of them are from candidates. Ok, let me rectify that situation. I missed the article when it was first posted and luckily a friend just recently sent me the URL. I have subsequently registered and hopefully will not be out of the loop in the future.
I have lived in Palo Alto since 1971 and I think it is a wonderful place. It is just that is could be so much better. That's why I am a candidate for City Council
My answers to your questions follow;
questions I would love to ask the candidates, such as can they understand a city budget and work through the numbers? Are they willing to make decisions based on finances, rather than on who comes to council meetings pleading for pet projects? And finally, will the candidates be simply a rubber stamp for city hall staff or can they exercise some leadership?
Smokey: At the risk of sounding self serving, I have created, read and understood budgets for much larger organizations than the City of Palo Alto. Making decision solely based on finances will turn us all into bean counters. There is a lot more "soul" in Palo Alto.
In my opinion, the open sessions at City council are simply "venting" sessions and are dominated by individual or small group issues and do not seem to address city wide challenges. This is another example of a lack of proper prioritization Yes, there are neighborhood issues that need to be addressed, but are council meetings the place to air them?
When I signed up to run for City Council, I really did not understand the structure and the extent of organizational dysfunction of our City government. What I have learned is that there are no quick fixes. The problems are complex and there are no easy answers. Having said that, it is clear that if we truly want to improve this wonderful place were we live, we need to tackle the management and organizational cultural problems.
Those are for starters; here are some more:
Diana: Infrastructure a code word for sundry things like street and road repairs, park improvements, street lighting. Much work has been neglected, e.g., we are some $28 million behind in street repairs alone. What would you do, Mr./Ms. Candidate, to speed things up? Should we allocate more city money for improving our infrastructure?
Smokey: It is obvious we can not clear the backlog quickly, so we should do those repairs that will have maximum positive impact. I would propose we start with the downtown business districts, since any improvements will have a potential positive revenue impact. Quite frankly, they are a mess!
Diana: What are your three priorities for this city?
* Significantly improve City Management and organizational culture
* Revitalization of business districts
* Fix our decaying and crumbling physical infrastructural
Diana: Councils in the past have put together a list of priorities, but then the list changes the following year. What overall priority practices would you urge?
Smokey:The problem is that we do not have a long term vision and plan for the City. Lacking a shared vision, we will continue to make tactical decisions that wander all over the place. One of my first actions would be to work with council and the community to generate a vision of where we want the city to be in the future.
Diana: City employee costs and benefits are skyrocketing, putting increased pressure on the city's annual budget. Would you cut the budget? Would you cut the number of employees at city hall?
Smokey: Yes and Yes! However, the current structure of City government makes these action almost impossible. The use of technology, automation and outsourcing offers short term opportunities. A long term solution requires changing the management structure and culture of City government.
Diana: Does this city spend too much and/or are we getting our money's worth?
Smokey: How can we tell? My sense is that we do spend too much and we obviously are not getting our monies worth, but without better reporting and data, we are all in the dark. And yes, I have read the City budget.
Diana: What should the city do to keep its auto dealers in town and attract new ones?
Smokey: Reign in the Planning department and make land use decision be city wide instead on local neighborhood based.
Diana: Please comment on the city's new web site and what should be done about it, if anything.
Smokey: The new Palo Alto web site is an embarrassment! The look and feel is a matter of taste, but the fact that it simple does not work (I can give you tons of examples) is the real problem. I am a technologist and really feel for the average user who is just trying to access some City information. It is not fixable since there were no public design goals or objectives. The decision to adopt a Search vs. Structure model was made without any understanding of the technology required or the consequences to users. I have several ideas about how to provide the best city government web site anywhere and will share them in the proper forum.
Diana: We've had two city council subcommittees work for two-plus years on increasing retail in Palo Alto and encouraging new businesses to locate here, but the committees have not had much success. What would you do to attract more retailers?
Smokey: In the face of decaying infrastructure and a City Staff that, by there actions, appear to be anti business it is no surprise that the subcommittees were not successful. The normal process when trying to entice business owners to locate in a community is to offer them incentives. My sense is that we do not and the difficulty in dealing with the City bureaucracy presents a major obstacle.
In a very real sense we are behind the curve. Without major improvements in the retail "environment" I feel the City needs to be very aggressive in offering meaningful enticements. I think there is a sense that retailers should feel lucky to be the doing business in Pal Alto. I know lots of business owners in Palo Alto and nothing could be further from the truth.
Diana: Do we need more housing in our city or do we have enough?
Smokey: The simple fact is that the Palo Alto is "built-out". That does not mean that we should not build more housing (we will!), but we must take into account the total costs of such increases. One of the primary reasons for our infrastructure decay and back log is that we have historical approved development with out recouping the total costs to the City. The credit card is now late and the interest is mounting.
Diana: How do you feel about the traffic in town?
Smokey: As much as we wish people did not need to pass through our City the fact remains the need to and will! The City needs to be much more inventive and open about how to facilitate the flow of traffic through our community. The traffic department should be renamed the traffic "obstruction" department
Diana: Four years ago, and then two years ago, there was talk of reducing the council from nine to seven members, and also electing a mayor who would serve a four-year term. Candidate reaction, please.
Smokey: Council size may be an issue, but the real problem, is that electing councilors "at large" means that the council members do not represent anyone (except maybe them selves). We should cut the city up into districts and then elect councilors to represent those districts. The issue of an elected mayor is about who runs the City. Currently the city manager has that job, but reports to nine individuals!! An elected mayor is one way to address this situation, but probably one of many possible solutions.
Diana: The City Council recently approved hiring an environmental-coordinator for $151,000 to focus the city more specifically on global warming locally. Do you agree or disagree with the need for such a coordinator?
Smokey:I guess I would like to see the job description for this position. More importantly, what are the deliverables for this position? This appears to be a hire for a currently popular issue. I may be wrong, but It seems to me the City has a number of such positions.